Maybe you’re a work-from-home veteran who simply wants to maximize your workspace so you can be more organized and efficient. Maybe you’re suddenly sharing that workspace with your partner who is now telecommuting part or full time. Perhaps you’re competing with school- or college-aged kids for a place to do Zoom calls. If things are feeling crowded, it’s time for budget-friendly, boss-friendly ways to keep everyone productive instead of searching for missing homework, important files and privacy to keep everyone organized and productive.
Think of it this way: No one ever became less productive by working in a more organized space. Plus, organizing your home workspace can actually be fun. Let’s dive into 9 inexpensive, ingenious ways to make that space work hard for everyone in your house.
1. Give everyone a say
First graders, teenagers, parents: gather everyone’s input and creativity into how the space is laid out, equipped and decorated. Original artwork, favorite quotes, a splash of color, even a potted plant to care for, can give each family member ownership of the shared space so they work happy.
2. Choose a space with natural lighting — or just change your lightbulbs
Let’s face it, a bright, airy, sunny space is more welcoming, making your family more apt to actually want to grind out their work or school assignments there. Don’t worry if you don’t have a big window illuminating the room. Place one or two daylight bulbs strategically to create a well-lit space conducive to getting things done. A desk lamp focuses light for kids for writing, coloring or graphing. Accent lighting away from the desk creates a mood that is less stark than glaring overhead lighting. Also, check out the American Optometric Association’s tips for avoiding digital eye strain.
3. Formalize the workspace
Not everyone has a spare bedroom or a den they can outfit for a home workspace. That’s OK. Claim part of your biggest room and set it apart with an inexpensive curtain you can find at a thrift store or a discount store. String it from one wall to another with a cable or clothesline, or with adhesive clips you can stick to the ceiling and safely peel off when you’re done with your partition. Make sure to leave enough space inside the curtain to move a desk chair in and out and not feel too cramped. Opening it back up when the last person is done working will restore the original room to its full size.
4. Create an efficient workstation with cast-offs, thrift finds and repurposed items
There’s no need to buy a new desk, bookshelves or a chair that may be out of your budget. Get creative! Thrift stores, yard sales and online exchanges have lots of good options, as do some of the construction reclamation stores like ReStore that are growing in popularity. Even if they don’t have used desks, you may find a cool old door with a flat surface suitable for writing, cutting, pasting and the like. Check out eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist or NextDoor for inexpensive furniture and other items people are looking to sell at a low price or even give away.
Turn a big, sturdy appliance or moving box into a temporary desk or reading fort. Ask the staff at stores that sell, deliver and install appliances if they’ll save you a box – and check on Craigslist for giveaways. When you score one, cut out one side so you can slide a chair under it. If it’s too low, put it up on cement blocks or stacks of books.
Build a wall desk out of a shelf. Buy two or three inexpensive wall brackets and a piece of finished shelving from a home store. Shelving should be deep enough to accommodate at least a laptop, and/or a separate monitor, depending on your setup. Be sure to install the wall brackets into wall studs so the screws go into wood, not just drywall. If you’re not a DIY-er, hit up TaskRabbit or Craigslist for someone local who will help you out for a few bucks.
Quick bookcase? Use binder clips to connect several shoeboxes, with a box or two for each person in the family. Have everyone personalize their box(es) so it’s clear what belongs to whom.
5. Get thrifty with necessary technology
If you need a computer, laptop or tablet, you don't need to buy an expensive new one. First, check with your employer or school to see if extra (and often free) equipment is available to borrow. Online sources like eBay, Amazon, Apple and computer stores are good places to find used and refurbished technology. But, do your homework before you purchase — checking things like battery life, buyer protection and past customer reviews of a seller. Also important: earphones for computers and cellphones keep down noise and boost privacy in a shared space. You can find inexpensive ones at discount stores and online.
6. Outfit your workstation to keep everyone — and everything — organized
Crayons, markers, pencils and paintbrushes can be kept neat and tidy in a shoebox filled with toilet paper rolls. Kids can wrap the box with tack paper, or color or paint their box to make it their own.
Mason jars can be hot-glued together in a pyramid and laid on their sides for a nifty looking organizer that doesn’t take up a lot of room.
Repurpose an old jewelry box with little compartments for storing pushpins, binder clips, erasers, paperclips, stamps, etc. Don’t have a jewelry box? Use a clean egg carton or muffin tin — you’ll have 12 great places to keep things on hand. Let the kids decorate with glitter glue, ribbons, stickers, hard candy and anything else fun.
7. DIY paper-filing solutions save space
Bills to pay and file. Articles to print out. Kids’ worksheets, projects and reports. Even in our digital age, the modern home office has plenty of paper that needs to stay organized so it can be easily found and protected. If it’s in your budget, buy an inexpensive wall-mounted magazine storage solution, and assign everyone a slot (you may find cool DIY projects on Pinterest to make one yourself). Each family member labels their slot. Buy colored file folders and let everyone pick their signature color. Color-coded tabs (or glued-on cartoon characters) personalize manilla folders. If you don’t have the wall space or a magazine rack, stash folders in an old basket that you can set next to or under the desk.
8. Rethink buying a printer
Consider how much you actually have to print before you invest in a printer. Even though they’re cheaper than they were, printers are still expensive, take up space and require ink refills. So, download and email as many documents as possible. But, if you need a printer, maybe you and your neighbors can share the cost. If one of your neighbors already owns a printer, perhaps you can “rent time” on theirs by buying the next ream of paper or the next ink cartridge. If sharing isn’t an option, remember that you can print at places like a FedEx Kinkos, a locally owned business or libraries.
9. Post a workspace schedule
Maximize time and patience by creating a schedule so each family member knows who needs to do what, and when. Schedule family members by the time of day they’re most productive and which school or work jobs take priority. Reading tasks and non-computer work can be in other rooms and even outside, weather permitting. Keep circling back to tweak the schedule. And add some rules right from the beginning about putting everything in the workspace back where you found it. Suggest that people not eat at the desk, or drink from open containers that might spill onto and ruin paper or computer and electrical equipment. Everyone should also save their computer work to their own, named folders on the hard drive or in the cloud.
This final aspect of being most productive in a home workspace costs nothing, but is very valuable to everyone in the family. After you’ve set up the best space you can, help everyone understand how to stay their best, physically and mentally. Sharing a space can be stressful, so have everyone learn more about the benefits of mindful living. This is a great time to teach your young ones about staying calm, being collaborative and respecting other family members’ needs and timelines. Together, learn to take a breath, stay flexible and put things in perspective to stay happy and productive.